Edie Brous
Nurse Attorney
118 East 28th Street
Room 404
New York, NY 10016
Tel. (212) 989-5469
Fax. (646) 349-5355
Web Site:

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Nurses are used to being portrayed badly by the media. Television shows & cinematic productions that remain physician-centric portray nurses (if at all) in one of several misleading and offensive ways:

Nurses as handmaidens
Nursing characters on these programs rarely have lines that say more than “Yes doctor” “No Doctor” “Right away Doctor” (as if any nurse has ever actually said, “Right away Doctor”) or sappy things like, “Is it a miracle Doctor?” They might also be allowed to say, “I’m just the nurse.” Because nurses are in the plot to admire and defer to the almighty physician; there can be no further purpose for nurse characters in the story line. They simply fetch and obey commands because they don’t know how to use their little lady brains to think for themselves. Maybe that is why they have to wear those silly caps on their heads (which, in reality, nurses have not worn since the 1970s).

Nurses as sexual objects
Most of the nurses I have known do not actually work in pushup bras and high heels, but TV producers like to think the role of nursing is to sexually satisfy men. The naughty nurse season of Halloween costumes will soon be upon us, further perpetuating the image of nurses as sexually promiscuous. Nursing school is so competitive that every year we turn away tens of thousands of qualified applicants to nursing programs. Those who are accepted then have to get through what has been ranked the most rigorous and difficult undergraduate degree program, then take and pass state boards before they are allowed to assume the monstrous responsibility for patients’ lives. Of course, it only makes sense that the real reason we would to go through all of that would be to have sex with a doctor.

Nurses as angels/battle axes
Nurses are self-sacrificing martyrs whose sole purpose is to provide tender loving care. Our entire existence is about compassion. We have no skills or education, and play no important role in patient care. We are simply noble souls who do not need sleep, breaks, food, or professional respect and a decent salary. Why, we would work for free if we could because, gosh, we just LOVE people. The other side of that coin portrays us as mean-spirited matrons, obsessed with obedience to strict rules and insensitive to the pain or suffering of others. Angels or Nurse Ratcheds.

Nurses as children
Little valentine hearts and teddy bears or butterflies are used to lure us because nurses are really just little girls. “Love a nurse PRN” and “Nurses call the shots” mugs further trivialize our real contribution. And ignores the fact that all nurses are not female.

These images are not new. Nurses have always been subjected to these inaccurate and damaging representations. But something has changed. Social media has made it possible to fight back. In the recent Miss America competition, Miss Colorado (Kelly Johnson), in scrubs, delivered an original monologue describing her experience as a nurse caring for an Alzheimer’s patient. She explained why “just a nurse” is no longer in her vocabulary. []

Shortly after Ms. Kelly’s moving monologue, the hosts of “The View” belittled her. [] Joy Behar asked why she was wearing a “doctor’s stethoscope” – insinuating that it was a fashion accessory to go along with her costume. The backlash was immediate, impressive and effective. Professional nursing organizations and individual nurses wrote to the show’s producers and to its sponsors. Nurses organized and harnessed the power of social media. Nurses posted open letters on Facebook. Nurses organized on Facebook and Twitter, posting photos for the “Show me your stethoscope” campaign. [].

Doctors, surgeons, other professionals and the lay public from around the globe joined in the outrage. Five major sponsors pulled their advertisements from the show, prompting an on-air apology and a segment dedicated to honoring nurses. [].

I personally don’t buy the sincerity of the 7 minute segment. In my opinion, the show was in serious trouble and simply engaging in damage control. But it’s a start. And it demonstrates that when 3 million of us speak in one voice, we are extremely powerful. Imagine if every one of us receiving a catalogue filled with little girl gift ideas for the nurse in your life sent it back with a note saying, “I am not a child. I am actually an educated and skilled professional. Your life might depend on those skills one day. Enough with the hearts & teddy bears - do you have anything for grownups?”

We are not angels of mercy, children, battle axes, physician extender handmaidens, or sexual objects. And we will no longer allow others to portray us that way without consequences. We are highly-educated and skilled professionals who are entitled to respect. Imagine if the 3 million of us used the power of our collective voice to improve working conditions, demand safe-staffing, mandate internships/residencies for new graduates, address workplace violence and require that nurses have a seat at the policy table?

We can do it. Maybe the powerful show of strength and solidarity we just demonstrated can be a warning to those who continue to portray us in an anachronistic and disparaging manner. And maybe it can be the motivation for all of us to feel the pride to which we are entitled. We found our voice. Let’s roar.

Suggested resources:
• Diana Mason: Policy and Politics in Nursing and Health Care, 7th Edition []
 • Amanda Anderson: The 2015 Bedpan Confessionals: Tall Tales of Truth by Nurses, for Everyone []
• Barbara Glickstein: Health Styles []
 • Barbara Ficarra: Health in 30 []
 • Suzanne Gordon: From Silence to Voice: What Nurses Must Know and Communicate to the Public
Bar Admissions:
  • New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
  • Southern and Eastern Districts New York Federal Courts
  • United States Supreme Court
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This newsletter is intended to provide general information for educational purposes only.  It does not serve as a substitute for legal advice.  If you need legal assistance engage the services of an attorney in your state.  Subscription to this newsletter does not create an attorney/client relationship.
Copyright © 2015, Edie Brous, RN, Esq.